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date: 29 November 2020

God-fearers (theosebeis)locked

  • Pieter W. van der Horst

Extract

In ancient literature (both Graeco-Roman and Jewish and Christian) as well as in epigraphic material (mainly Jewish), one finds references to persons or groups variously called theosebeis, sebomenoi, phoboumenoi (ton theon), metuentes (in Hebrew parlance yir’ei shamayim, “fearers of heaven [=God]”). Although in the past scholars sometimes assumed these terms to be just designations of pious persons in general,1 nowadays the prevalent opinion is that they often refer to a quite specific category: gentiles who sympathize with the Jewish religion.2 The evidence evinces the existence of non-Jewish groups or individuals on the fringes of local synagogues who were deeply interested in aspects of Judaism and observed ad libitum precepts of the Jewish law (Torah), for instance by keeping the Sabbath and attending synagogue services or adhering to some form of monotheism, without, however, formally converting to Judaism (in contrast to proselytes).In Greek and Latin literature of the imperial period, references to gentiles who were attracted to Judaism are rare. Juvenal the satirist ridicules gentiles who have themselves circumcised and revere the Law of Moses after their father had begun to observe the Sabbath (metuentem sabbata patrem) and to abstain from pork (Sat.

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